September 17th, 2011
|03:42 pm - Othello|
Last night I went to see Dominic West and Clarke Peters in Othello at the Sheffield Crucible. It is a broad, robust version. The overall story was plainly told: chop chop, kill kill, what a bastard. There was a lot of audience laughter at the bare-faced badness of Iago.
I thought the young girl who played Desdemona was extremely touching and sweet, and Iago's wife was good too. But the other supporting characters were a bit disappointing, gabbling through some of the scenes. And it was hard to hear some of the lines.
The leads though were strong and full of energy. You could follow the story transparently, feel it emotionally, and you knew where you were. When I was younger Shakespeare was more solemnly and artistically presented, with emphasis on the beauty of the language. Nowadays I think it is more accessible. I hear more natural laughter and gasps of horror and so on from audiences nowadays. I suppose that something has been lost, but I am glad to see people engaged with the story. TV actors like these are good at that - they are not unsubtle, but they are direct - they convey this is the person, this is his motive, this is what he wants and how he goes about it. They communicate the story very clearly.
I think the biggest problem for high brow culture is that people can't engage with it, or even feel it doesn't want them to engage, so I think stagings like this are doing a great job, which is more important than subtleties of poetry.
We get this debate in opera all the time. It came up at the pub on Wednesday during a Q&A with Susan Graham and Russell Braun. There's a view which was expressed forcibly by a gentleman with a rather plummy (for Toronto) accent that "we don't want the production to get in the way of the music". My companion (20 years younger than me) and I rolled our eyes. My experience is that younger people who go to opera want their preconceptions challenged and want to to see drama, Gesamtkunstwerke if you will. Sure the singing and the music are important but it's not a canary contest.
Yes, that's just the thing. I remember Clive James complaining a lot when the new style acting of Shakespeare first came in, that would have been in the late seventies I think, because people began to stress words according to natural meaning rather than poetic metre. We take naturalistic stress for granted now, and I think it makes a big difference. It's meeting the audience half way.
I think one of the first Othellos I saw had Bob Peck as Iago, played the role so that he drew the sympathy of the audience.
I don't know, now, whether I would like this as much as I did then (because my recollection is so imperfect), but at the time I thought it was a really interesting way of presenting the play.
It's nice sometimes to see it done differently, though I can barely imagine how they managed it. Iago has got to be my most loathed villain.
Though in this production I wasn't quite sure why anybody (and especially Emilia) believed him. One of my theories with Othello is that the rumour Iago mentions about Othello and Emilia is true - they did have a brief fling a long time ago - and that it affects the behaviour of O and E towards I far more than vice versa, because their background guilt causes them to fall over backwards trying to be fair to him. Except that if this were true Othello probably would have promoted Iago in the first place.
Yes, I can see that could work. As it is, I think they just tried to paper over the cracks with 'bluff Northern charisma'. Must mention the way he delivered the line 'He kissed me. Hard!' So funny.
I was trying to remeber how it was done, and came up with 'well, I _liked_ him. And trying to think how he made me like him, came up with 'well, the way you would like anyone you came into contact with - body language, tone, smiling'.
It was a long time ago, and trying to work out how old my memory is (and thus why I shouldn't worry about it being so dim!) I googled ... and came up with this: http://www.oocities.org/televisioncity/8596/bobpeck/othello.html
which is a contemporary reaction.
One big advantage Iago has is that the audience know they're his only confidants. He's acting as confidant to all these other people - Othello, Roderigo, Cassio - but he shares his secrets only with the audience, so that puts us in an intimate relationship with him (even if we have the option of despising him in the same way that he despises the people who trust him).